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New Study Documents Continued Sage-Grouse Population Declines


April 24, 2015

Contact: Courtney Sexton, csexton@defenders.org, 202.772.0253

New Study Documents Continued Sage-Grouse Population Declines

Bird on the brink remains imperiled in face of inadequate conservation plans

WASHINGTON— Greater sage-grouse populations declined by at least 55 percent range-wide from 2007 to 2013, according to a new study by leading sage-grouse experts released by the Pew Charitable Trusts today. Populations declined even more steeply in some areas, including the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, which suffered a 76 percent loss over the seven-year period. The total number of birds counted in 2013 was the lowest ever reported in science. While the authors of the study acknowledged that sage-grouse populations tend to cycle over 10-year periods, they were uncertain if the birds will rebound from their current, precipitous drop, or if it “may be the start of a complete population collapse.”

The study results come in the wake of a pointed letter from 11 experts on sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats to Secretary of the Interior Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack describing how draft conservation plans produced as part of the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy do not correspond with the best available science on the species, and so may fail to conserve the grouse and its iconic western range. In their population report, the researchers were clear that, though it may be too early to detect effects of some conservation measures, “concerted efforts across both public and private land ownerships that are intended to benefit greater sage-grouse show little current evidence of success.”

The following is a statement from Mark Salvo, Director of Federal Lands Conservation for Defenders of Wildlife:

“These numbers speak loud and clear – more needs to be done to conserve sage-grouse.

“The latest findings validate our deepest concerns for the future of sage-grouse and the Sagebrush Sea. The loss of sage-grouse is a stark indicator of our mismanagement of this quintessential landscape that supports the grouse and hundreds of other species of wildlife.

“The experts’ conclusions are no surprise to us: it is vitally important to protect remaining sage-grouse habitat if the birds are to have a future in the American West. Inadequate federal and state plans must incorporate stronger, science-based conservation measures to conserve and restore the bird’s sagebrush habitat.”


The imperiled, iconic greater sage-grouse is at the forefront of an increasingly heated debate over land management and conservation throughout the western United States. Even as Congress threatens to undermine recovery for the birds, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service are moving forward on their unprecedented planning process to protect and restore the species and its habitat on more than 60 million acres of public land. The agencies are currently finalizing conservation plans for greater sage-grouse, but the inadequacy of the draft plans coupled with the release of this new demographic information is a blunt reminder that planners need to adopt strong, science-based conservation measures in the final plans to protect the species. The BLM and Forest Service are expected to release final plans this spring, when they will be available for another round of public input. 


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @defendersnews.